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Aging changes in the lungs
The lungs have two primary finctions: acquire oxygen from the air, which is required for life, and to remove carbon dioxide from the body, which is a byproduct of many of the chemical reactions that sustain life.
During breathing, air enters and exits the lungs. It flows in through increasingly small airways, finally filling tiny sacs called alveoli. Blood circulates around the alveoli through capillaries. Where the capillaries and alveoli meet, oxygen crosses into the bloodstream. At the same time, carbon dioxide crosses from the bloodstream into the alveoli to be exhaled.
The lungs are continuously being exposed to particles in the air, including smoke, pollen, dust, and microorganisms. Therefore, another a major function of the lungs is to protect from any diseases that may caused by inhaled particles.
Changes in the bones and muscles result in a slightly increased front-to-back chest diameter. Loss of bone mass in the ribs and vertebrae, and mineral deposits in the rib cartilage, change the spine curvature. There may be side-to-side curvature ( kyphosis ) or increased front-to-back curvature ( scoliosis ) or lordosis.
The maximal force one can generate on inspiration or expiration decreases with age, as the diaphragm and muscles between the ribs (intercostals) become weaker. The chest is less able to stretch to breathe, and the pattern of breathing may change slightly to compensate for decreased ability to expand the chest.
EFFECT OF CHANGES
However, when there is a need for increased breathing, the lungs may not be able to keep up with the demand. As aging continues, there may be a decreased capacity for exercise, and high altitude may cause problems.
An important change for many older people is that the airways close more readily. The airways tend to collapse when an older person breathes shallowly or when in bed for a prolonged time. Breathing shallowly because of pain, illness, or surgery causes an increased risk for pneumonia or other lung problems. As a result, it is important for older people to be out of bed as much as possible, even when ill or after surgery.
Normally, breathing is controlled by your brain. It receives information from various parts of the body telling it how much oxygen and carbon dioxide are in the blood. Low oxygen levels or high carbon dioxide levels trigger an increased rate and depth of breathing. It is normal for even healthy older people to have a reduced response to both decreased oxygen and increased carbon dioxide levels.
The voice box (larynx) also changes with aging. This causes the pitch, loudness, and quality of the voice to change. The voice may become quieter and slightly hoarse. The pitch may be decreased in women and increased in men. The voice may sound "weaker," but most people remain quite capable of effective communication. Some people may be emotionally sensitive to the voice's perceived loss of appeal or effectiveness.
The cough reflex may not trigger as readily, and the cough may be less forceful. The hairlike projections that line the airway (cilia) are less able to move mucus up and out of the airway. In addition, the nose and breathing passages secrete less of a substance called IgA (an antibody that protects against viruses). Thus, the elderly are more susceptible to pneumonia and other types of lung infections.
Common lung problems in the elderly include chronically low oxygen levels (reducing tolerance to illness), decreased exercise tolerance, abnormal breathing patterns including sleep apnea (episodes of no breathing during sleep), increased risk of lung infections such as pneumonia or bronchitis , and diseases caused by tobacco damage such as emphysema or lung cancer.
Secondly, more than any other group the elderly need to be aware of the need to be up and about and should consciously try to increase deep breathing during illness or after surgery.
Continued use of voice helps maintain overall vocal performance.
Update Date: 2/6/2003David A. Kaufman, M.D., Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine, University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT